Scuffles at Orange marches

David McKittrick@IndyVoices
Saturday 12 July 1997 23:02

A Series of indignant but generally non-violent disputes marked yesterday's 12th of July celebrations in Northern Ireland, as tens of thousands of Orangemen took to the streets in commemoration of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Minor scuffles took place in Londonderry as a group of non-Orange loyalists blocked an Orange parade in protest against its re-routing. An Orange Order spokesman described the protesters as "riff-raff".

The main Belfast parade took place without a contingent of south Belfast Orangemen who decided not to march since police could not guarantee their safety through the mainly Catholic Lower Ormeau district.

There seemed to be little tension in the air despite several republican attacks on the security forces and on a loyalist bonfire during the night. But Orange leaders were nervous that militant dissidents in the ranks might stage protests against their dramatic decision to abandon the Lower Ormeau march and switch the march from Londonderry to Limavady.

In the most serious overnight incident, three soldiers and a policeman and policewoman were wounded when two gunmen fired 20 shots and threw a blast bomb at them in the Oldpark area of north Belfast. The IRA said last night it had carried out the shootings. The injured soldiers were members of the 1st Battalion of the Staffordshire Regiment, who were drafted into Northern Ireland on Thursday at the request of the RUC.

In another incident two teenage Protestants attending bonfire celebrations were shot and injured by republicans. The IRA said it was responsible for a further incident, a blast bomb attack on police in the Suffolk area of Belfast.

In the Londonderry incident around 50 loyalists blocked an Orange march which had been re-routed away from the Diamond area of the city, where marchers traditionally assemble at the war memorial.

Following a confrontation the march was again re-routed. The incident angered the Orange chief marshal, Douglas Caldwell, who said: "The people who blocked this parade are not members of the Orange Order - they are the riff-raff. They are no friends of ours. Our organisation can well do without them. It has to be said that last night we were sitting on very high ground, but unfortunately we're down there again."

At one possible flashpoint, Dunloy in County Antrim, Orangemen handed in a letter of protest after police prevented them marching through the largely Catholic town. At another, Bellaghy in County Londonderry, another parade was stopped.

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